Predicting SEC Offensive, Defensive Player of the Year
Today, we focus on individual accolades. The SEC is scheduled to announce the preseason predictions Wednesday, but why wait.
Here is how we voted for the SEC Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year awards.
SEC Offensive Player of the Year
Jon Cooper: Najee Harris, Alabama
This really feels like a Derrick Henry-type year for Harris. No, Harris won’t put up the huge numbers that Henry did or likely win the Heisman Trophy, but the Alabama offense will go as Harris goes. Mac Jones is a solid quarterback. He’ll make some throws downfield to DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle; however, that will only be possible with Alabama’s running game. Great offensive coordinators like Steve Sarkisian build the offense around its star player(s). While Alabama has big names on offense, Harris is the biggest star. He was really good in 2019; he’ll be great in 2020.
— Jon Cooper is co-founder of SDS.
Connor O’Gara: Kyle Trask, Florida
Call me crazy, but it feels like the SEC is begging for a breakout quarterback in 2020. It seems like expectations for returning quarterbacks are incredibly low compared to what we’ve seen during the Playoff era. I think that sets up well for someone like Trask, essentially racked up the vast majority of his 2019 numbers (25 touchdowns, 2,941 passing yards on 67% accuracy) playing against Power 5 competition.
Trask isn’t necessarily a breakout quarterback, but I’m high on his Year 2 potential based on how consistent he was in 2019. With Trevon Grimes, Kyle Pitts, Kadarius Toney and others back from an offense that should also be improved up front, I think Trask can take home this honor with a 9-1 regular season. Florida beating Georgia is obviously the key to earning a trip to Atlanta. If Trask does that and gets over the hump, he’ll be as obvious as any candidate to win the award.
— Connor O’Gara is a senior national columnist at SDS.
Neil Blackmon: Najee Harris, Alabama
Harris is a different type of Alabama running back, the kind of guy that is dynamic as a receiver (he already is the all-time Bama leader in touchdown receptions by a running back) who can also carry the load on offense. Without RPO wizards Hurts and Tua on campus, the Tide will return to balance, and the beneficiary will be Harris, who will be the SEC’s best offensive weapon and a Heisman finalist.
— Neil Blackmon covers Florida and the SEC for SDS.
Joe Cox: Kyle Trask, Florida
Well, the tried and true formula for this is the best player on the best team. But Mac Jones probably won’t put up crazy numbers, Alabama will split the running game, and it’s hard to pick a receiver for this. I considered KJ Costello, just because he’ll put up huge numbers (Tim Couch won POTY running Leach’s offense in 1998 with a .500 in the SEC Kentucky team). But I still think Florida winning the East will be the story of this season (well, that and Bama trying to win another title). Kyle Trask will be at the center of that, and so he gets my predictive vote.
— Joe Cox covers Kentucky and the SEC for SDS.
Michael Bratton: Kyle Trask, Florida
His second year starting in Dan Mullen’s offense should result in a big season. While some suggest the overhaul at the receiver position in Gainesville is going to hurt him, Kyle Pitts is the best tight end in the league and there’s enough talent on the outside for Trask to have a big season.
— Michael Bratton is a news editor at SDS.
Adam Spencer: KJ Costello, Mississippi State
I think Costello will run away with the SEC passing title this year in Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense. He’ll have a versatile weapon in Kylie Hill coming out of the backfield to catch passes and take some pressure off the receivers with the run game. I don’t necessarily believe the Bulldogs will have a great season overall, but Costello’s numbers will be tough to ignore at the end of the year.
— Adam Spencer is the newsletter editor at SDS.
Chris Wright: Najee Harris, Alabama
I like underdogs, but unfortunately, they typically don’t win this award. You have to go back to Johnny Manziel’s 2012 Heisman season to find the most recent SEC Offensive POY who didn’t make it to the SEC Championship Game. And Manziel was hardly an underdog. Unknown, perhaps, entering the season, but he toyed with the league, led the Aggies past Alabama and to their only double-digit victory total this century.
So, as much fun as it would be to reward, say, a Kylin Hill for breaking school records or Costello lead the SEC in passing in a bleak 2020, a blue-blood is going to win.
Is there an underdog on a blue-blood? I’d love to see comparatively unheralded Mac Jones win the award when some Bama fans already want his backup to take his starting job. Doubt it happens.
Trask was an underdog last year. Not sure he still qualifies as such after turning in the best season by a Gators QB since a guy named Tebow.
Bo Nix is an absolute wild card in this race, just like his Auburn team is seemingly every year.
Harris is the simplest, safest pick. I’d say “boring,” but there’s nothing boring about watching that guy operate in space.
SEC Defensive Player of the Year
Jon Cooper: Derek Stingley Jr., LSU
Derek Singley won’t only be the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year; he’ll be college football’s top defensive player, too. He’ll rack up awards during the postseason. LSU loves to brag about being “DBU,” but Stingley will become the best out of all of them, Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu included. He won’t get too much hype or put up huge numbers, because offensive coordinators won’t pick on him too much.
Connor O’Gara: Derek Stingley Jr., LSU
I say this even though I think Stingley’s interception numbers are about to plummet. Why? Who in their right mind would target that guy? That seems dumb. Surely, though, Stingley’s coverage numbers will stand out. The guy just had one of the best seasons we’ve ever seen from a freshman in the SEC. In other words, he’s already on everyone’s radar, so if there is that interception regression, he’s not someone who’ll get lost in the shuffle.
By the way, I’m totally bracing for the “Stingley is overrated” take to come out this year. But it won’t come from those of us who watch him take away half the field. That’s how good he is. It’ll be interesting to see if playing in Bo Pelini’s defense will change Stingley’s sky-high ceiling. Could more pressure on the quarterback put Stingley in some more favorable 50-50 situations? Perhaps. As long as he’s healthy (and maybe even if he’s not), Stingley is going to ball no matter who’s coaching him up.
Neil Blackmon: Richard LeCounte III, Georgia
Generally, a sack artist or a dominant linebacker or ball-hawking corner wins, so this might be a stretch. But LeCounte plays as a single high safety in Kirby Smart’s defense, which showcases his speed and range to cover the boundaries and his ability to deliver the big hit in run support. He will make enough big plays on the SEC’s best defense to help Georgia compete for a 4th consecutive SEC East title, and voters will remember that come awards season.
Joe Cox: Nick Bolton, Missouri
Missouri won’t be very good … but on some level, that’ll just work for Bolton, who will get every chance to roam sideline-to-sideline and make tackles. There’s no elite pass rusher who jumps out on paper in the SEC. Patrick Surtain or Stingley could have a big year in the secondary and grab this, but at the end of the day, the best defenses will largely be defense-by-committee set-ups, with one player capturing headlines. Bolton won’t have any problems with getting overshadowed at Mizzou, and will post 100+ tackles again easily.
Michael Bratton: Derek Stingley Jr., LSU
He was already the best defensive back on a team that had a 2nd-round pick on the team, this year Stingley takes his game to another level in Bo Pelini’s system.
Adam Spencer: Nick Bolton, Mizzou
Bolton is the perfect SEC linebacker. He’s a force in the run game and is also very instinctive as a pass defender. He became a star after Cale Garrett went down with an injury last year and I expect him to ride that momentum to a huge 2020 campaign. With a talented defensive lineman (Kobie Whiteside) clogging up the trenches, Bolton will be free to do what he does best — make big plays.
Chris Wright, Dylan Moses, Alabama
Alabama’s defensive rebirth is going to be the story of the year.
Its pending demise was greatly exaggerated last year. It was merely the product of injuries, nothing more. The key one being to Moses. His absence magnified the others because the defense revolved around not only his talent but his play-calling and live adjustments.
He’s back. Bama’s D will be back, too, back to its nasty run-stuffing, ball-hawking, QB-crushing usual self.
Moses gets the nod over Stingley primarily because SEC OCs already know better than to challenge Stingley. It’s difficult to make highlight plays when the ball is 30 yards from you. Stingley’s numbers will suffer, even though his impact won’t. Stingley likely is the coaches’ favorite to win this award because they know. Writers tend to look at big, obvious numbers. Moses will have plenty of those.
If the media select Harris and Moses, it’ll be the 3rd time in 6 years that a pair of Tide stars swept the SEC’s most coveted individual awards.